Madagascar Geography and Population

By | January 8, 2023

Madagascar – Geography

Madagascar belongs geologically to Africa and the Indian subcontinent, as the island was part of the primordial continent Gondwanaland and was first separated from Africa in the Cretaceous. The island can be divided into four quite different landscape zones.

The central highlands are located at an altitude of 900-1500 m and are intersected by several mountain ridges and massifs. The Tsaratanana massif (2876 m) reaches its highest point to the north. Around the mountain ranges are volcanic soils that characterize the entire central island with a strongly eroded, red-colored and hilly landscape with sparse or no tree growth at all. Deforestation, burning of fields and overgrazing have led to the formation of large erosion holes, lavaka.

From the highlands, the landscape falls abruptly towards the approximately 40 km wide eastern coastal area, which is intersected by a large number of rivers. On these slopes are the remains of an original wide rainforest belt. The coast itself is characterized by dunes and lagoons. A canal along the coast from Toamasina in the north to Vangaindrano in the south was built in the colonial era, but is now in severe disrepair and is used only by local fishermen. To the north lies the elongated island of Nosy Boraha (Sainte-Marie) off the coast.

In the western part of Madagascar, the terrain drops evenly towards the Mozambique Canal. The mountain ranges, which are offshoots of the central highlands, are in this area covered by younger, sedimentary rocks. The coast is irregular and varied with coral reefs, volcanic islets and extensive mangrove swamps. Three large rivers flow to the west, forming large deltas; they bring volcanic material from the highlands, which colors the sea off the deltas red. Farthest to the north is the island of Nosy Bé off the coast.

The southern part is characterized by stretches of semi-desert and thorn forest. Here lies the Isalo massif with strongly irregular rock formations, small forests in the river valleys and magnificent plateaus overlooking the savannah landscape.


Madagascar is located in the tropical zone, but the climate varies greatly. The east coast is exposed to the humid, warm southeastern pass and has year- round rainfall; up to 3700 mm per year furthest north. In the area here and off the coast, violent hurricanes occur in the summer, from January to March, frequently causing damage to the coast. The central highlands are significantly cooler and especially to the west much drier. On the west coast, there is a dry season from April to November and only sparse rain the rest of the year, while the southern part of Madagascar has long actual periods of drought.

Population and ethnography

The population is divided into 18 “tribes”; the division is not ethnically based, but rather historical-geographical with a background in past kingdoms.

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Merina, which belongs to the central highlands and makes up 25% of the population, together with betsileo are the closest heirs to the Indonesian culture with terrace farm with rice cultivation. Since the late 1700’s. merina has been a leading group in society, and there is still some historical, political and cultural opposition between the highland tribes and the coastal population. The contradictions, however, seem to be dampened by an even stronger tradition, namely fihavanana, a consensus principle that strives for conflicts to end in peace and unity.

In addition to these Madagascares, there are also smaller groups of foreigners. Of greatest importance are the approximately 20,000 Europeans, predominantly French and many posted by international organizations. Many business people come from the nearby French island of Réunion. The most numerous group, approximately 35,000, come from the Comoros and are Muslims. approximately 25,000 Indians and Pakistanis are mainly immigrants after World War II, and the approximately 20,000 Chinese are descendants of the railway workers who were brought to Madagascar in the early 1900’s. Both of the Asian groups are predominantly business people and constitute a significant economic power factor.


Madagascar is among the world’s 20 poorest countries, but as with other developing countries, the real standard of living is only to a small extent reflected in figures such as GDP per capita. residents For example, during the nine-month general strike in 1991-92, one could see that family ties to self-sufficient farmers averted much distress among the public employees who did not receive wages. 80% of the workforce is employed in agriculture (incl. Fishing and forestry). Most people grow rice, which covers 50% of the cultivated area, but production has not been able to keep up with population growth, and rice must be imported. Other important food crops are corn and various tuberous plants (cassava and sweet potatoes)). Important export crops are vanilla, coffee and cloves. More than half of the island’s area is used for grazing for e.g. 13 mio. pieces of cattle.

The forests of Madagascar are seriously threatened. The majority goes to local firewood supply, and large replanting programs have not really been able to prevent the forests from being reduced. The development causes major erosion problems and threatens several rare plant and animal species.

Since the mid-1990’s, the industrial sector has expanded sharply with the development of export-oriented industries around the capital; most of them in the textile industry. In 2004, there were 107,000 employees in these industries. The success is mainly based on low wages, which has attracted companies previously located in Asia or Mauritius, as well as on favorable terms for exports to the EU. The last benefits disappear with the general liberalization of trade on the world market. This seems to have led to several company closures in the textile industry in the country in 2006.

The island’s railway network is completely dilapidated and road transport is almost exclusive. Three main roads connect the capital, Antananarivo, with the main coastal towns, but otherwise the road network is inadequate and in poor condition. Passenger transport takes place by buses and a large number of public taxis. In addition, there is an extensive network of air routes between both the large cities and remote smaller cities.

Madagascar – wildlife and plant life

Wildlife differs markedly from the African mainland, eg lacking groups such as monkeys and antelopes, the cat family, the dog family, woodpeckers and rhinoceros birds. On the other hand, there are many endemic species and groups; Thus, 80% of mammals are endemic, eg all brush pigs. The half-monkeys are richly represented with four endemic families: lemurs, dwarf lemurs, indians and aye-aye (see lemurs).

approximately half of the bird species are endemic, the whole group of extremely diverse vangas. Until a few hundred years ago, the elephant birds weighing up to 500 kg lived on the island; their 7 l large eggs still emerge from sand dunes and were formerly used as bowls.

All of the approximately 200 local amphibian species are known only from Madagascar, and among the reptiles, the chameleons in particular are numerous. Some Malagasy animal groups have their closest relatives in India; this applies, for example, to giant ball millipedes.

In the rainy areas to the north and east, there is a species-rich tropical rainforest, which, however, has been largely felled. Here grows, for example, the “travelers’ tree”, the palm Ravenala madagascariensis, and many epiphytic orchids, Angraecum sesquipedale. In the west there is dry forest, where several of the tree species have swollen, bottle-like trunks that serve to store water. This is also the origin of the flamboyant tree, Delonix regia, which is grown in many places in the tropics. In the arid areas of the south there are many distinctive stem succulents. The flora comprises approximately 12,000 species of seedlings, of which 80-85% are known exclusively from Madagascar.

Madagascar – religion

Just over half of the population are Christians, divided roughly equally between Catholics and Protestants. Of the remaining population, the vast majority adhere to the traditional religion, which contains a strong element of ancestral worship. A small minority are Muslims. For culture and traditions of Madagascar, please check allunitconverters.

Madagascar Geography